As talks move out of public eye, teachers keep up community outreach

St. Paul teachers and their supporters deliver a petition to the school board in support of their core bargaining principles.

St. Paul teachers and their supporters deliver a petition to the school board in support of their core bargaining principles.

To prepare for negotiations on a new contract, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers reached out to parents and the general public, using the feedback they received to craft an innovative, community-driven set of guiding principles for their contract talks.

So you can imagine teachers’ frustration when the St. Paul Public Schools asked the state to move their negotiations into closed-door mediation in September.

“We believe the reason they did that was to prevent the large audiences of parents, community members, students and other educators from being able to listen to our discussions,” SPFT organizer Paul Rohlfing said.

The district and union have had two mediation sessions since management walked out of bargaining, with two more scheduled for Nov. 21 and Dec. 11.

Although negotiations have moved behind closed doors, the teachers’ negotiating team has worked hard at keeping members of the community engaged and invested in the contract proposals they helped develop.

At the St. Paul Board of Education’s Nov. 12 meeting, SPFT members presented school board members with a petition signed by 4,000 people who support the union’s community-driven, core bargaining issues: smaller classes, less testing, more pre-kindergarten offerings, better school staffing, more parent engagement and a culturally relevant education.

Teachers, Rohlfing said, volunteered their time to generate signatures on the petition, which is still accepting signatures.

“They canvassed their neighborhoods after school,” Rohlfing said. “People went to PTA and PTO meetings at their school. We had people staffing tables on parent-teacher conference nights and at sporting events.”

The public outreach will continue, teachers say, throughout negotiations. The union has been releasing videos on its website, breaking down teachers’ contract proposals, where they came from and why they matter. Plans for lawn signs are in the works, Rohlfing said.

“We feel like the most important thing is to get our message directly to parents and community members through those people who they know and trust, the educators who work with their kids,” he added. “These are our public schools; they belong to all of us collectively.”

Tell members of the St. Paul Board of Education it’s time to move forward with negotiations on the teachers’ core bargaining issues. E-mail all board members at once: sb.members@spps.org.

Find videos breaking down the teachers’ core bargaining issues – like the one below about testing – at www.spft.org.

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